2d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jan. 20, 2013
John 2: 1-11
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.
“Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory” (John 2: 11).
|Stained glass: OL of the Valley, Orange, N.J.|
We’ve heard countless times this beautiful story of Jesus’ 1st miracle. No doubt we’ve also heard many interpretations of it. What realities lie beneath this “first of his signs”?
The 1st reality is that Jesus uses his power to benefit others. The apocryphal gospels have a number of stories about Jesus using his power for display or for his own interest. In the authentic gospels of Matthew (4:1-10) and Luke (4:1-12), display and self-interest are 2 of the temptations the devil throws at him in the desert. But the Son of Man came to serve others, not to be served (Mark 10:45). He came to save others, not to save himself (cf. Matt 27:42). So while there seems to be some hesitance on his part in this story—“my hour has not yet come” (2:4), for when his hour does come in its completeness, he “will draw all people to [himself]” (John 12:32)—still, the sign that he performs is for the immediate benefit of 2 families and their guests, even if the groom’s family was guilty of poor planning (some have suggested that Jesus himself had brought along some uninvited, unplanned-for guests—a bunch of thirsty fishermen—who were the causes of the wine’s having run out; but John says, “Jesus and his disciples also had been invited” [2:2]).
The 2d reality behind the outward sign of the water turned into wine is the superabundance of grace, God’s free gift. It’s self-evident that the miraculous abundance of wine was a freely given gift, as is God’s grace. Each of the 6 stone water jars held “2 or 3 measures,” John reports (2:6). A “measure” was about 40 liters or 10 gallons; thus the “20 to 30 gallons” of our translation. (God knows how the servants were able to move those jars after they were filled. Backpackers know that a gallon of water weighs about 7 lbs.) The superabundance isn’t about only the quantity, as John makes clear (2:10), but also about the quality—of the wine, of our eternal life.
We don’t know how far along this multi-day wedding had gone, nor how far it had yet to run, but God provides an abundance of the best wine to keep it going happily and to save the groom’s family from public humiliation. There you have, obviously, a “type,” an analogy, of what God’s abundant grace does for us—not in terms of our civil lives, our social lives, but for our moral standing, our relationship with him, and our standing on Judgment Day. On that day we hope not to be placed among the goats at the Judge’s left hand, humiliated before the whole community of mankind, but to be glorified among the sheep at his right hand—redeemed by superabundant grace.
The 3d reality is just that: redemption. You all know that wine, feasting, and weddings are biblical signs of God’s relationship with his people, of salvation, of eternal life. We had an example in the 1st reading (Is 62:1-5). This 1st of Jesus’ signs inaugurates Jesus’ “hour,” the working out of our redemption by which the broken relationship between us and our Creator is repaired. Redemption brings us home to our Father’s house, like hostages successfully rescued—Peter preaches in Acts that “Jesus cured all who had fallen into the power of the devil” (10:38)—and the Father will throw a feast for his restored children, like the father in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32).
The 4th reality is sacramental. “Jesus’ signs” begin with water and wine, which we naturally associate with the sacraments, and so they also end: “One soldier thrust his a lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34), eternal life pouring from the cross in those signs of the Eucharist and of Baptism: the means of our incorporation into Christ’s body, into God’s family—an incorporation that will be celebrated in its fullness when the “bridegroom rejoices in his bride” (Is 62:5) at “the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).